A number of media NGOs expressed their collective indignation at the way the authorities had changed the mechanism for suspending the broadcasting licenses in order to block the unwanted TV channels even after the state of emergency was lifted. Too late have they realized that this year even more active and sophisticated methods will be used to kill freedom of speech in our country
Semyon ALBU, RTA:
While Maia Sandu was receiving another award for promoting European values in Timisoara, Romania, we were scrutinizing the updated list of websites blocked in Moldova. In total, there are 53 Moldovan and Russian portals and media outlets on the list. Generally speaking, there is a very symbolic coincidence: it shows very well both how things are going with democratic standards and what a pompous nonsense the process of European integration under Sandu and PAS has turned into.
The “blacklist” itself perfectly reflects the key leitmotifs in domestic and foreign policy - usurpation of power and anti-Russian hysteria. The former is implemented through banning any opposition resources capable of promoting an alternative - i.e. truthful - point of view on what is happening in the country rather than the propaganda illusions of the regime. The latter leitmotif takes the form of barring the society from Russian information content so that to step up “desovietization” and “derussification” processes because, you know, support for Ukraine and EU accession is still below the absolute majority. And this, in the opinion of the PAS bigwigs, is absolutely unacceptable.
Of course, the current list of “cancelled media outlets” is by no means the final one. Given the pre-election period, it will continue to extend, especially since even some of Russia’s major media outlets have somehow evaded blocking. It is clearly someone’s omission, but I won’t give a clue to our special services, it’s their job. And there is still plenty of possibilities for repression in our media space, already cleaned up quite a bit.
Moreover, they are very easy to implement - all you need to do is to send SIS orders to national Internet operators. Dealing with TV channels is more complicated. While the state of emergency was in place and a tame commission for emergency situations was working, it was possible to suspend broadcasting licenses freely, disregarding legal procedures. Thus, six TV channels had their licenses suspended in December 2022 and another six in October last year, just before the local elections. The pretext was allegedly protection from misinformation and attempts to manipulate public opinion.
Nevertheless, for some internal political reasons, the authorities had to cancel the state of emergency, which meant that all the decisions taken by the CES would also go into oblivion. However, so that no one could doubt the high democratic standards of the ruling party, Dorin Recean announced early December that none of the previously closed TV channels would broadcast in the new year. A little later, Igor Grosu confirmed that some legal decisions were prepared to make that happen.
Finally, on 29 December reports came that the permits for the companies that own the blocked TV channels were suspended until certain documents and information were provided. The decision was made by, who would you think, the Council for the Promotion of Investment Projects of National Importance. I am sure that many people learnt about its existence from this exact news. In fact, it was set up by Filip’s government for “direct dialogue with the business environment, improvement of investment policy and legislation, elimination of restrictions for investors”, etc. As you can see, no mention of the opposition media’s closure. Hardly anyone back then in 2016 could have thought that this Council would eventually be used for such purposes. We can only envy the creativity and subtlety of thought of the PAS executors.
This cynical decision eventually outraged even the media NGOs loyal to PAS, which, half a month later, issued a collective statement. It was signed by 9 organizations, including the Center for Independent Journalism, the Electronic Press Association, the Promo-LEX association, the Acces-info center, and Amnesty International Moldova. They called the authorities’ actions “a severe interference in the right to freedom of expression” and condemned “the lack of transparency in the process of developing, adopting and implementing the new legal mechanism”.
Public activists fairly drew attention to the fact that the authorities kept these changes secret, despite attempts by the media to find out something about them, that the relevant amendments were introduced at the last moment and voted in the final reading without public consultations. According to their opinion, this practice contradicts a number of normative acts regulating the participation of civil society in the drafting of laws.
In general, of course, this reaction is praiseworthy, but quite belated. Freedom of speech in our country has been killed for two years now, defiantly and lawlessly gagging all undesirable people. Therefore, the fact that the authorities, after the cancellation of the state of emergency, have found a way to continue to plug opposition television resources without a court verdict - which is strictly forbidden - does not surprise me at all.
Moreover, it’s just the beginning. The blocking of websites, the closure of television channels, even the deportation of local journalists in violation of all conceivable norms and rules – all these punitive tools have been well-tested over the past two years, so that they could be applied to the presidential and then parliamentary elections smoothly and without any delays. Amidst such high stakes, few people will notice the discontent of our NGOs. We should have sounded the alarm earlier, back in the days of the first blockings in February-March 2022, when our portal was among those shut down.
As for the current attitude of the ruling party towards the media, it was perfectly demonstrated by the Minister of Infrastructure and Regional Development, one of the PAS tops, Andrei Spinu, who recently at a briefing, when asked an uncomfortable question, harshly responded that he did not answer journalists working for Sor’s criminal group. Once again, another “good man” showed his skillful ability to deliver a verdict in lieu of a court of law…
So, either you as media belong to a propaganda pool or you will no longer be able to work normally in Moldova. I think that during 2024 this will become clear to everyone. Especially when the Ministry of Truth aka Patriot Centre, headed by such an acknowledged expert in the field of media and disinformation as Anna Revenco, will be fully launched.